#ThrowbackThursday. #FlashbackFriday. There’s a psychological reason why hundreds of millions of social media posts share these popular hashtags: reflecting on the past blends nostalgia with transformation.
When you look back on the past, you recognize transformations that seemed slight at the moment but were momentous over time. Often, it’s hard to recognize such growth as it occurs—yet that all changed in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world to speed up as it slowed down.
Suddenly, all industries—and especially education—had to transform in real-time.
In the past few years, school leaders have had both reflect and act, both be present and look ahead, both learn from and be part of widespread industry change. And from that, champions of transformation emerged.
“Education had a lot of pre-existing conditions before 2020,” said Ian Symmonds, founder and chief strategist of Ian Symmonds & Associates. “The pandemic was basically a catalyst that forced our industry to innovate. Schools learned flexibility, fluidity, and agility and had the confidence to make big changes. There’s a reason people always say "urgency is the greatest lubricant for change."
Now, nearly four years since this monumental catalyst, incredible stories of positive industry transformation and the ultimate impact on students’ lives offer hope and inspiration for all independent schools and the future of education.
Our goal is to reflect on the positive changes happening in the industry while gaining insights and perspectives from school and industry leaders. Regardless of school size, there are things we can all learn from these amazing changemakers.
The disrupted years of the pandemic did more than keep students six feet apart (or more). In many ways, COVID-19 fractured the critical bonds that held school communities together—and it also laid bare the deep fissures that had long been threatening their foundations.
“We had two years of parents and caregivers who had never seen their child’s classroom. We had children who had only known school in a pandemic. So our essential question was both really simple and really hard: How do we be together again?” asked Noni Thomas López, Head of School at Gordon School, a progressive independent day school in Rhode Island. “I use that awkward wording intentionally because what we were talking about were ways of being. And in a school community, our ways of being together are everything.”
Many schools struggled to effectively piece their communities back together while asking hard questions about how and why these communities were faltering.
Gordon School’s leadership explored this question by gathering data from stakeholders about what they needed in order to feel belonging, and four themes emerged: safety, freedom, care, and community. They framed the work to be done inside a vision they believed could be transformational: “We will co-create and sustain a community rooted in love and justice.”
“This work meant examining how some of our practices of being together may have caused harm, particularly to those members of our community from historically marginalized groups,” said Thomas López. “It’s messy, iterative work. We celebrate our victories and learn from our mistakes. Perhaps, setting about implementing a bold intention grounded in our values and the needs of our community is the transformation in and of itself.”
As school days worldwide were upended, students and families began to look closer at the options and opportunities offered at their current institutions—and seek alternatives. For many families, however, understanding the existing options was a challenge.
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